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August 2012
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11 entries from September 2012

Points to Ponder (100 words or less)

You have to decide how you define success. This is how you will measure your life when you have spent it and make no mistake you're spending it. Every day, with every choice that you are making you are limiting yourself from other choices. And if you try to avoid that by not making any choices...well that's still a choice.

Risking nothing is just another way to risk everything. What do you want out of life?


Do something that matters: Thoughts on unhappy lives

A common occurrence that happens all over the country in counseling offices every day is people wanting to be "happier." Almost every counselor asks the client, "How will you know when our time is done? What are your goals for counseling? A very common answer is that the client wants to be happier. Many of the couples sessions that end in divorce are because the client(s) wanted to be happier. Families get in trouble because "no one's happy."

But what does this mean? Where does happiness come from? Is happiness dependent upon outward events or inward choices? I think the answer is probably complicated but I strongly lean toward the side of inward choices. I'll discuss and debate that another day.

Today I want to discuss what I believe is one of the biggest single contributors to unhappiness. People are unhappy because they are wasting their lives. I don't mean this metaphorically. I mean this as literally as I can possibly be.

People are literally spending their life on things that not only don't matter but that have no meaning. Don't believe me? Consider that fantasy football is a two billion dollar a year industry. TWO BILLION DOLLARS!!! The average person spends 9 hours a week at work on his/her fantasy football team. But that's almost too easy.

The truth is we have made an idol of ourselves. Most of my clients who are “unhappy” with their lives are unhappy because they have pursuing their own happiness to the exclusion of almost everything else. Many of them have achieved what they set out to do and it turns out it wasn’t all that satisfying. They buy themselves whatever they want. They spend hours playing video games and fantasy sports. It’s as if we’ve lost the ability to pursue things that matter and that require sacrifice. What amazes me is all of the things we’ll sacrifice for sports or video games, or hobbies.

This really isn’t about the hobbies though. I like video games. I like hunting. I like sports. I like reading. This is about what is ultimately fulfilling. What actually makes a life worth living? I think that most of the time people struggle with life because they’ve spent their life on things that just don’t matter. Think about things that you value in your life. They cost you or someone something. Maybe not money, but time; they cost someone something. Too often we pursue easy. We chase comfortable. The problem is when we get it, we find it doesn’t satisfy.

Which brings up the really good question of what does satisfy? What brings meaning to life? The short version that I would argue for is that we find meaning in life by doing for others.

Value comes from pursuing things that will outlive us. What do you think? What is it that brings meaning to life?

Life is an invitation to pain and that's why relationships matter

Life is an invitation to pain. When a person spends all of their time attempting to avoid that pain they usually create more pain. Think of a child being born. Think of the risk the parents are taking. (Incidentally, this is sometimes cited as a reason to not have kids). Think about marriage. We all know about the risk of divorce.

But what if you make it? What then? I recently heard a man talk who is 87. His wife of many years died in January. Think of that pain. He scrunched his face together has he talked. Eighty-seven years of life lines jumped off his face as his hand massaged his temple. His admission came out clear, and concise if not somewhat complicated.

"I wanted to die. I was angry. We had always wanted to die together and that didn't happen. Now, I was alone."

The real problem isn't the pain. The real problem is how we handle the pain or our attempts to avoid the pain. When we attempt to avoid the pain at all costs, we actually still encounter pain. It's just a different pain. We have to accept the fact that pain is part of life. Pain can be managed, but not eliminated. What we actually eliminate from our life is relationships. Of course, those have their own risks, but they are also almost always the instrument to healing from the very pain we are experiencing. Instead of the removing the disease (pain), we remove the means to healing.

It's not that life can't be so much more than pain.

It can.

It should be.

But that's the rub; We have to accept the core of what is before we can accept the possibilities of what could be. Too many people actually encounter more pain because they are always chasing the elusive, mythical, mystical pain free life.

Marriage gets hard? Get a divorce.

Kids make choices you don't like? Cut them off.

Friend frustrates you? Exit the relationship.

Got a job where the relationships are hard? Get a new job or go on unemployment.

I believe our expectations shape our reactions. I am afraid that too many people spend too much of their time denying that fact. No matter what you do, there will be pain and conflict in your life. Accepting that truth is one of the key steps to actually having a healthy and productive life.

Life is. What we do with what life is matters the most. When we get stuck avoiding pain at all costs, we avoid doing things that matter. Because anything that matter involves risk and probably pain. When we get stuck doing things that don't really matter, we experience real frustration and angst. This usually leads to more pain and frustrations. Investing in relationships brings healing. is healing

The gentleman that I heard talk. When he talked about his healing, he talked about the relationships that helped him heal.

How about you? How have relationships helped you heal?

Repost: Everyone wins? Just for showing up? Part 5 of 5

Part one can be found here and part two can be found here. You can find part three here. Part four can be found here.

This has been a fun series for me to write. I have had a lot of people contact me to tell me how much they agree. I have had some people contact me to tell me how much they disagree. I have enjoyed the conversation. Today I want to talk about what we can do to change this mentality of everyone winning.

  1. Let our kids lose.  It is OK to lose. It’s part of life.  Denying our children this fact sets them up to have to deal with it when we cannot walk through it with them. It is better for them to taste the bitter bite of loss when you and I are standing next to them then it is for them to have to learn how to process it without us. That’s called parenting
  2. Teach honest values. As parents, we need to own our contradictions. We teach that winning doesn’t matter but then we make sure that everyone wins. That doesn’t track as an honest value. That tracks as a lie. Kids recognize that and we need to do the same.
  3. We need to examine the stuff it brings up in ourselves and admit that often it is as much about how we feel when our kids lose as it is about them. When we do things to make ourselves feel better and wrap it up in being about our kids we actually hide from our own emotions. We actually model the exact opposite of what we want to teach our children, which is to be honest about how they are feeling and then to deal with those feelings.
  4. Grab every teaching moment we can. Too often, valuable teaching moments are lost because we fail to allow our children to fail. These are lessons that  will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
  5. Redefine success.  This is one of the areas where I think we miss the greatest of opportunities. We define success one way verbally but define it completely another with out actions.  
  6. Recognize that growth often happens through pain. While this is not a comfortable truth, it is never the less a truth. By trying to insulate our children from the pain of losing we rob them of the opportunity to grow.
  7. Our job is more about preparing our children for the next thing, not necessarily this thing.  Most kids are not going to remember their wins or losses when they are older. They will remember the ability to overcome difficulties (or the lack thereof).

It’s OK if the kids lose. The truth is they will lose. Losing is part of life. Not everyone wins at everything. It simply is not real life.

Repost: Everyone wins? Just for showing up? Part 4 of 5

Part one can be found here and part two can be found here. You can find part three here.

What has been the cause of this idea that everyone should win just for showing up? Certainly, part of it is good intentions. Of course, there is an old saying about the path to a certain hot place being lined with good intentions.

What about our own issues? Have you ever watched the parents at many youth sporting events? It's ridiculous. Too often, the identity of the parents is found in the accomplishments of their children. In part, I think this is because we utilize all kinds of weird and unrealistic accolades to describe youth sports. We tell people that the greatest day of their lives will be this Friday night's football game that no one will actually remember in five years. That is probably a post for another day.

I also think we are a society of extremes. We do not want anyone to feel badly about themselves. In many respects, a proper self-esteem has become a new god. We don't even care if that god is built upon stuff that doesn't actually work. In other words as a commenter mentioned on a previous post, many of the kids know that the just show up awards are not all that significant.

Perhaps the biggest reason for this movement over the last few decades is that we tend to be a society of extremes. Too many people put too much emphasis on winning in the last decade. To be sure, there are still many people who put too much emphasis on winning.

Measuring a person’s self worth based on winning is simply wrong and dangerous.  This “everyone can win just for showing up” mentality seems to be a reaction to that.

But doesn’t it do exactly the opposite of what it sets out to do?

Doesn’t this mentality say that winners matter, but everyone is a winner?

We cannot eliminate measurements and winning. They are a part of life. I am a trainer for the physical management aspect of the hospital where I work. Occasionally we have to fail someone who cannot physically perform the needed tasks in order for everyone to be safe. They attend the entire training, only to be told that they cannot continue in this job because they cannot pass the class. Do you want someone who was certified just because they showed up? How about a doctor?

The person who built your home?

Your dentist?

Of course we don’t want these people to be certified simply because they showed up. We want them to be compentent.

This brings up an interesting question for me. What happens when these people who have grown up winning just for showing up really do lose for the first time. What happens the first time someone says, “no, that’s not good enough.”?

There are so many inherent contradictions in what we are teaching from what we actually doing in this mess.

Contradiction #1. Life is about the journey.

 This is a contradiction because we are saying you have to win (or get an award) to really feel accomplished.

Contradiction #2. Our identity is more than what we accomplish

But you have to have this award (sign of accomplishment to have a good identity)

Contradiction #3. Hard work is its own reward

But just in case it’s not enough let us give you this silly award that half of you are going to laugh at and the other half are going to think is real life.

Contradiction #4. Grades are earned.

But we want you to feel good about yourself so we’re going to take a few points from this A student and give it to the C student because they both worked really hard.

Our greatest failure is that we are attempting to teach that life is fair. It simply is not. When I was an athletic director and coach, I would attend band events. They were raucous affairs, where the trombone and the drums would dual. They were a lot of fun. Some of the events were very serious affairs.Do you know that not once did any parent, student, or faculty member come up to me and congratulate me on how being a part of the band? Of course, I wasn’t a part of the band. It wasn’t my role. I can’t play an instrument, sing or dance. 

I was at many of the practices. I had students pulled out of some classes to do some set up type stuff.

I was still at the school working hard to get many things done. I would have been a bad fit for the band. Still, I’d like my certificate please.

The truth is that sometimes our best doesn’t get us what we want. Sometimes, we try as hard as we can and we fail short. At these times, we need a better plan than everyone winning.

One of my professors in graduate school had us read a paper where there was  a study done that suggested the following results from this show up and win mentality. The paper suggested that there were at least four major negative consequences:

1      Depression and resulting anger

  • We tend to be as mature as we have to be and no more.
  • Part of growing up is learning to adapt to things that we encounter. If we don’t know how to adapt to something because we’ve never encountered it we can become depressed and angry.

2      Fear of trying again

3      Abandonment

  • This can be both a fear of being abandoned and of abandoning whatever we are trying because it is too hard.

4      Lack of resilience.

The biggest complaint I hear when I am doing my consulting work is that new employees cannot be told no. If a rule doesn’t make sense to them, they simply don’t follow it. They want raises based just on showing up. How many times have you heard some one threaten to quit because they didn’t like being told no or they didn’t like being reprimanded? How many times has someone thought they should get a promotion that went to someone else and they threatened to quit? Never mind that there were more people applying than positions open.

Here is my  last question of this post. If everyone wins, everyone plays, etc. how do we learn to cheer for others? How do we learn to celebrate the success of others, even when we fail at it? Doesn’t this mentality create more selfishness? How do you think the everyone wins, you get an award just for showing up and all of life should be fun mentality is effecting marriages and families?

Tomorrow, I will finish this series with some thoughts on what we can do to change this mentality and the resulting problems.

Everyone Wins? Just for showing up? Part 3 of 5

I have a lot of things that I am excited to share with you over this upcoming year. But I'm kicking off the school year with a series that I did last year regarding what I think is a dangerous mentality of “everyone wins.” This series is designed to create some conversation on what it means to allow our children to lose and struggle and win. If you read it last year, maybe you’ll want to skip it…and then again you might enjoy it again. If you’re new to these parts maybe you’ll love it…or maybe you’ll hate it. We’ll see. Either way. Here is part three of five.




Part one can be found here and part two can be found here.

There is a great scene in the animated movie, The Incredibles. The son Dash is being "encouraged" by his parents. One of his parents tells him that everyone is special. Under his breath he replies, "Then no one is."

We are stuck on this idea that everyone is exceptional, special and a winner.

Of course, if these things are true than no one is actually any of them. Some people are good at math, while others are good at stringing words together. Some people can sing, some can play sports, some can cook and clean. Some people can do amazing things with a pencil, others do amazing things with fire and sand.

Yes, we are all unique. Yes, we are all have skills, talents, and abilities that make us unique. But have we gone to far. Are we creating a generation of people that expect to win just for showing up? Personally, I think the answer to that question is yes.

I have a problem with this mentality. I think it is hurting our society. When I was a teacher, I would hear all the time about the unfairness of life. Student X was upset because she wasn't getting the playing time she deserved. Parent after parent would ask me how their child would get better if he or she did not play in the game. I would get the it's not fair that she or he practices as much as the other person and doesn't get to play. 

My daughter played soccer a number of years ago. She loved it. She wasn't very good. It's not a value judgement on her, it is simply a statement of fact as someone who has coached for a number of years. She might be god some day, but the truth is at this point I doubt it. She did not enjoy running, which is a rather critical component of soccer. She has moved onto dance. She loves it. I have no idea if she is good or not from a critical point of view but I love watching her. I love the ways her eyes shimmer when she talks about dance.

What is interesting to me is that she knew she wasn't very good. She still got the same ribbon as everyone else on her team. Just for showing up.

A friend of mine has a son that played on a baseball team. He batted a thousand for the season and scored every time he came to bat. I have no idea what that would make his slugging percentage but I would think it would be really high. You see, he played in a league where every time a batter hit the ball he or she ran all of the bases. Every time, no matter what. At the end of the season he got an award, just for showing up.

He was ill prepared for the next season when three strikes meant you were out.

When I worked as an athletic director, I instituted rules and guidelines for people to earn a letter in a sport. To that point in the schools history, simply showing up meant you made the team and earned a letter. One of my favorite student athletes failed to earn his letter while his older and younger brother did make it. Two girls on the women's basketball team also failed.

"But they really tried." "It's not fair." "He's really disappointed." "I don't like to see him hurt."

Essentially they could have just said, "Look, trying is enough."

Of course, this isn't really true. What about the people who applied for the same job opening that you did and didn't get it because you got it. What about the people who put a bid on the same house that you are now living in. Do you want them moving in because they really wanted the house?

What do you think? Do you think people are being taught that you win just for showing up? If not, why are you still reading this? :) If so, do you think that is a good or bad thing?

In the next post, I'll begin to explain the problems inherent in the idea of winning just for showing up.

Suicide prevention week

This week is suicide awareness/prevention week.

  • 1 million people commit suicide every year worldwide
  • In the US 11 people out of every 100,000 will commit suicide this year
  • Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in America
  • It’s estimated that 12 to 25 attempts happen for every one that succeeds
  • It is believed that up to 1/4 of all successful suicides, the individual did not want to succeed
  • It is the leading cause of death in people under 30
  • 4 times as many men commit suicide as women
  • It is 7th leading cause of death for men
  • It is the 16th leading cause of death for women
  • Over 90% of the people who commit suicide suffer from a mental disorder or substance abuse
  • Incidentally, it’s a myth that suicides are more common during the holiday seasons. In fact, December is the lowest month for suicides.

If you have had thoughts about hurting yourself, you are not alone. Whatever pain you are suffering, you do not have to suffer alone.

This does not have to be how your story ends. The world will not be better off without you. You have something to offer the world, that the world needs.

If you think you know someone who is contemplating suicide don’t be afraid to ask them. Tell them you care. Ask them how you can help. Don’t be afraid to encourage them to seek professional help. Counseling works. Every time they do a study on the efficacy of counseling, they find that by and large it is successful. Don’t let your current problems, or the current problems of your friends be the final chapter in the story.

Bené Brown on owining our story

I'm reading the book, The Gifts of imperfection by Bené Brown. I read it now and again. Recently I came across this quote. I think we are living in a risk-free obsessed society and we are paying dearly for it.  Almost everything in life

"Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky, but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when are brave enough to explore the darkness will discover the infinite power of our light."

~Bené Brown

Repost: Everyone wins part 2

Earlier this week, my kids went back to school. I started a new quarter. My wife is finishing one of her quarters. Little man Celli is continuing to prep to make his debut to this world. I decided that I  need to ease my way back into this blogging thing. I have a lot of things that I am excited to share with you over this upcoming year. But for this week, I am going to do a repost of a series that I did last year regarding what I think is a dangerous mentality of “everyone wins.” This series is designed to create some conversation on what it means to allow our children to lose and struggle and win. If you read it last year, maybe you’ll want to skip it…and then again you might enjoy it again. If you’re new to these parts maybe you’ll love it…or maybe you’ll hate it. We’ll see. Either way. Here is part one of five.


Does it seem to you like in today’s society, everyone wins?  Do you feel like people get rewarded just for showing up now? Have you heard something like, “Hey the other team outscored you by fifteen runs but we want you to feel good about yourself, so you win too!”?

Yesterday I wrote about how I had a professor in graduate school who  would often ruminate on this idea. Today, I want to talk about what if he was wrong.  What I actually want to talk about is what if he was wrong about the idea that everyone should not win?  Should everyone win?

If everyone should win, aren’t there some other things that should be true too?

  1. First, if he was wrong, there are hours of my life I’ve lost to this discussion. I’ll never get those hours back.
  2. Secondly, if he was wrong  you probably do not want to be his kid. Think about how bad that would be! Think about all the trophies and medals you would lose out on.
  3. If everyone wins, then shouldn’t everyone get paid the same? Shouldn’t the guy who’s put no time in going to school get paid the same as the guy who has done all the training and who has worked hard to learn more? Shouldn’t the woman who is only slightly skilled at her job get paid the same as the woman who is extremely skilled? To be fair, shouldn’t everyone get paid the same just for showing up? Shouldn’t management and labor get the same exact pay? Where do we limit our quest for fairness? Shouldn’t all students be simply given a pass/fail? Forget grades.

Obviously, I think he’s right. I think our society is constantly moving towards an everyone should win mentality. I also think it is having negative effects on our children and society.


Tomorrow, I will discuss why I think he’s right. I’ll offer some anecdotal evidence and some clinical evidence.


Academic Writing distilled....

If you know me, you know that I think there are very few organizations that take itself more seriously than it should besides Academia.  One may have to write poorly for the interest of academic integrity by referring to oneself in the third person. Or perhaps, the successful writer will engage in obtuse and obfuscation. A while ago, a friend shared this cartoon with me and I thought it was nearly perfect. :)